11 January 2005

Nigeria: EFCC Confirms Probe of Ex-Uba Chairman

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is currently investigating the immediate past chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Mr. Hakeem Belo-Osagie over alleged siphoning of huge sums of money from the bank's branch in New York to its subsidiary in Nigeria, where the ex-bank chief is believed to have substantial interest.

A national newspaper (Daily Independent) reported, yesterday, that the EFCC may arrest Mr. Belo-Osagie over alleged diver-sion of government revenue running into millions of dollars during his stewa-rdship of the bank.

An impeccable source in the financial crimes com-mission who confirmed the probe to Daily Trust, yesterday said however, that the questioning of the ex-UBA boss "is in connection with the diversion of government revenue, foreign exchange malpractices and siphoning of huge sums from the bank's (UBA's) New York branch to its subsidiary where he is said to have substantial stake".

According to the Daily Trust source, who would not wish to let out details for fear that "it may affect on-going investigations", Mr. Hakeem Belo-Osagie had been inv-ited for questioning late last year in connection with the probe, "and he may still be invited whenever the need arises".

The source who preferred anonymity, disclosed further that many other officials of the bank, especially the subsidiary to which the huge sums were allegedly siph-oned were questioned "within the three months or so that the investigations began, and our team of investigators have gotten very useful information from these people, just as inves-tigation continues".

The source said: "Like I told you earlier, we don't want to make full disclosures in order not to jeopardise the on-going efforts by our team of investigators, but we'll let out the detailed amount involved and all key actors at the appropriate time".

The Daily Independent said in its report yesterday that Mr. Belo-Osagie's travel documents may have been seized over the probe which it said involved money laundering in the bank during his stewardship, and that the team of auditors who audited the accounts of a Lagos-based company (names with-held), allegedly belonging to the former UBA boss was detained for the better part of last week, and released at about 9.30 p.m. on Friday.

The news report said further that the EFCC had, in a letter dated November11, 2004, written to the auditing firm, which is also based in Lagos, solicited its co-oper-ation, "as the commission is investigating a case of alle-ged conspiracy, stealing, criminal diversion of federal government revenue and foreign exchange malpra-ctices perpetrated by the management of UBA Plc and Zamora Ltd".

EFCC detectives, the newspaper report said furt-her, allegedly uncovered a $127 million scam in the course of the probe, and that UBA was indicted of dive-rting federal tax and stamp duties worth over N2 billion meant for the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

Efforts to get official reactions to the allegations from officials of UBA Plc, yesterday, failed, as the office line of the bank's head of Corporate Affairs, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka continued to ring without response, while her mobile phone was switched off, up to press time.

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